Circa 2010, Rick Segal, CEO of ground-breaking B2B agency HSR (which was rolled up with a number of agencies to form today’s gyro) provocatively declared, “B2B is dead.” Since then, plenty of others have piled on, declaring B2B’s demise in one form or another.
Given that HSR always was and gyro still is B2B through and through, I think Rick was really making the point that businesses are full of people – and marketing to a “business” as some sort of anonymous and abstract entity was old thinking.
At the time, I viewed Rick’s pronouncement as a clever exaggeration – a stunt. I still do. The reason being, B2B wasn’t dead then and isn’t dead now. In fact, it’s a sector ascending to a rightful place of primacy in an evolving world. I’ll provide one recent example from among the myriad that make my point.
One of my former colleagues at Stein IAS has signed on with an outfit called Flexport, which seeks to digitalize, modernize and thoroughly innovate the age-old, purely B2B, $7 trillion business of freight forwarding. Another one of those “unsexy” businesses that does nothing more than make the world go ‘round!
Said unsexy business just announced a round of funding led by the SoftBank Vision Fund totaling $1 billion. And far from being yet another consumer unicorn raising bizarre amounts of money on a wing, a prayer and a far-future promise of exponential growth, Flexport last year doubled top-line revenue to nearly a half-billion dollars and became the 11th largest freight forwarder on the world’s largest shipping lane…all in just 6 years in business.
Given I have been a B2B agency leader virtually my whole career, make no mistake: I am biased toward B2B. That said, I also have 30+ years’ history in B2B and a pretty good sense of where it has come from, what it’s at, and where it’s headed. And where it’s headed, Flexport being my illustration du jour, is up -- seriously up.
As B2B ascends, so too do B2B marketing agencies. To validate my statement, look no further than a recently released report that’s getting a ton of play. Two weeks ago, Forrester issued its first-ever analyst landscape report covering the B2B agency sector in North America. All my years in the game, and this is the first time a major analyst has covered the B2B agency sector. Says something, doesn’t it? Says quite a lot, actually.
The eponymous Agency I am proudly part of, Stein IAS, is featured in the report as are close to 40 other agencies. The report states what I know to be the case: “As all aspects of marketing become more digitally focused, B2B marketing agencies can play an important role as marketers use these service providers to…Elevate creative, communications, and content… Maintain relevant content to support campaigns and engage buyers…Drive value from data, digital, and martech investments…Supplement resources with cutting-edge thinking and expertise.”
Spot on, Forrester. And no, Rick Segal, B2B wasn’t/isn’t/won’t be dead. It is an enormous engine of economic growth and societal advancement. And B2B agencies are the pistons powering the performance.